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Michal Scott: Hiding in Plain Sight: Belle da Costa Greene (Contest)
Monday, August 22nd, 2022

UPDATE: The winner is…miki!

The last line of “The Star-Spangled Banner” has always struck me as the greatest irony of the entire song. “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” So many people in this country have that flag waving over them yet they are not free to be their authentic selves because of the -isms running rampant throughout US history. Jews who chose to change their names, gays who chose to remain in the closet, people of color who chose to pass for white. These subterfuges many times were taken not because of shame for their identity but because of lack of opportunity and/or safety. Such is the story of Belle da Costa Greene.

Belle was born Belle Marian Greener in Washington D.C. to an African American family, which numbered among the Black elite of the late 1800s. Her father, Richard T. Greener, was the first African American to graduate from Harvard. Although light enough to pass for white, he never did. Despite the horrific dismantling of Reconstruction and its immediate impact on their family’s situation in South Carolina, Greener lived his life as a vocal advocate for equal rights for his race. His wife however came to a different conclusion: passing for white would enable her family to have the opportunities and safety they deserved. They moved to New York and lived as whites. This choice however led to her parents’ separation.

Belle’s father’s love of illustrated manuscripts instilled a love for the written word in her. She trained as a librarian and was working at Princeton University’s library where she caught the eye of Junius Morgan, J.P. Morgan’s nephew. This led to the opportunity of a lifetime, and in 1905, she became the librarian/curator for J.P. Morgan’s library. She helped him amass a collection that became world famous and envied by museums around the world. Quite an accomplishment in the days before suffrage was achieved and career women were looked at with suspicion.

She retired from the Morgan Library in 1948, one year before her death. By then, she had enabled Morgan’s dream to come true: to make his library available as a resource to the public. I was glad once again to learn of another heroic Black woman, both from The Personal Librarian, a fictionalized account of her life and the biography, An Illuminated Life: Belle Da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege. However, I felt sad society wouldn’t have allowed her to accomplish all she had if she’d claimed her true heritage. I was also moved by the emotional costs Belle paid for choosing to live while hiding in plain sight. Her choice showed a woman could still be brave even if the land in which she lived wouldn’t let her be free.

For a chance at a $10 Amazon gift card, share the name of someone you admire who may have had to change their name or hide some part of who they were to succeed.

One Breath Away

Sentenced to hang for a crime she didn’t commit, former slave Mary Hamilton was exonerated at literally the last gasp. She returns to Safe Haven, broken and resigned to live alone. She’s never been courted, cuddled or spooned, and now no man could want her, not when sexual satisfaction comes only with the thought of asphyxiation. But then the handsome stranger who saved her shows up, stealing her breath from across the room and promising so much more.

Wealthy, freeborn-Black, Eban Thurman followed Mary to Safe Haven, believing the mysteriously exotic woman was foretold by the stars. He must marry her to reclaim his family farm. But first he must help her heal, and to do that means revealing his own predilection for edgier sex.

Hope ignites along with lust until the past threatens to keep them one breath away from love…

Excerpt from One Breath Away

In 1872 Texas who took note of a black woman who ain’t been asked to wed?

Yet Eban’s perusal said not only did he take note, but he liked what he saw.

“Ooo, Mother Hawthorne,” Felicity Parker teased. The sandy-haired, light-skinned beauty smiled as only a twenty-something-no-longer-a- virgin woman like her could. “Your nephew’s a- lookin’ Mountain’s way.” She eyed Mary from head to toe. “Does he like his berries big, black, and buxom?”

“Could be. Ya know what they say…” Widow Clemma Hawthorne’s smile grew into a grin. She sat on Mary’s right and whispered to Felicity on Mary’s left. “The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”

The mischief rife in Clemma’s tone shone in her gaze as she waggled her eyebrows at Mary.

Felicity looked Eban up and down with approval.

“If he likes ’em dark, I’ll be glad to blacken up for him. Lord knows I’s tired of beddin’ po’ boys. Whoo chile…” She fanned herself and grinned. “I was in line behind him when he made his deposit at the Savin’ and Loan. His gold rushed across that counter like freedmen hurryin’ to claim their forty acres and a mule.” She turned and nudged Mary. “You juicy enough for that rich he-man, Blackberry?”

Get your copy of One Breath Away!

25 comments to “Michal Scott: Hiding in Plain Sight: Belle da Costa Greene (Contest)”

  1. Jennifer Beyer
    · August 22nd, 2022 at 9:35 am · Link

    You have asked a hard question. I am horrible at remembering names! It’s even worse for me if they use a pseudonym. Now I’m going to be thinking about this for the rest of the day.

  2. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 22nd, 2022 at 12:00 pm · Link

    Hi Jennifer, sorry to be the cause of trouble for you. But if you think of someone I’d love to hear about them. For instance I was surprised to learn that Irving Berlin’s real name is Israel Beilin.

  3. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 22nd, 2022 at 12:00 pm · Link

    As always Delilah thanks for making space for me.

  4. Colleen C
    · August 22nd, 2022 at 12:22 pm · Link

    On my maternal grandfather’s side of the family, I am not sure how far back it is, but we have Lenape Indian… they simplified my ancestor’s name.

  5. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 22nd, 2022 at 1:15 pm · Link

    Thanks for sharing, Colleen. I know people who have experienced that too. We had a family from India whose boys names were Mitesh and Ketan that were changed to Michael and Kevin when they started school.

  6. bn100
    · August 22nd, 2022 at 1:22 pm · Link

    don’t know any

  7. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 22nd, 2022 at 1:26 pm · Link

    Thanks for commenting anyway, bn100.

  8. Mary Preston
    · August 22nd, 2022 at 4:48 pm · Link

    None come to my mind either. It’s a shame that people feel the need to hide or change.

  9. ButtonsMom2003
    · August 22nd, 2022 at 5:47 pm · Link

    I can’t think of anyone I’ve know that had to change their name. I personally choose to use a pen name for reviews because I read a lot of gay romance and the community I live in isn’t exactly accepting.

    Belle’s story was interesting so thanks for sharing. I also think that One Breath Away sounds good.

  10. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 22nd, 2022 at 6:34 pm · Link

    Hi Mary,

    It certainly is a shame, but I can certainly understand, especially where safety is concerned. It looked for awhile like we were turning the corner on acceptance, but unfortunately we’ve miles to go before we sleep. Thanks for commenting.

  11. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 22nd, 2022 at 6:36 pm · Link

    Hi Buttons Mom, a very wise choice seeing all the trolling that goes on. Glad you enjoyed learning a bit about Belle’s story and thanks for the compliment on One Breath Away.

  12. Katherine Anderson
    · August 22nd, 2022 at 7:37 pm · Link

    Not a changed name but a hiding of their true self defiently. My Grandmother was a Vietnamese imigrant to Australia that arrived just before the Vietnam war broke out. She was married to a white Englishmen and was shunned by a majority of the community she was now in due to her heritiage. My Grandma told me stories about having to hide her traditional cooking and traditional languge (which was difficult because we all know how hard English is to master). As well as having to hide her feelings for my grandfather when they where outside their home, the looks she would get if they cuddled or kissed……. Until the Day my grandfather passed she was still nerveous to hold his hand and be affectionite with him in public, even us grandkids (me inparticular as I took after my grandfather and am very white) I remeber hearing the comments when I was young from both the white community and her own Asian community coz she married outside it.

    Watching her hide her true self has made me even more determined to be the true me, and while I suffer with alot of sociatal guilt I will never let what my grandmother went though not be a lesson to me. Being myself is a privliage that I get and I thank her everyday for it.

  13. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 22nd, 2022 at 7:54 pm · Link

    Thank you Katherine for this inspirational sharing.

  14. Debra Guyette
    · August 23rd, 2022 at 5:04 am · Link

    I do not know of anyone who had to do that.

  15. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 23rd, 2022 at 9:31 am · Link

    Hi Debra, thanks for commenting.

  16. flchen1
    · August 24th, 2022 at 9:29 pm · Link

    It’s heartbreaking how so many people have had to either hide themselves or have had to endure others making changes to their identities for them simply so that they would better fit into the expectations the majority culture had for everyone. My parents and grandparents all had their names spelled however they happened to be Anglicized when they immigrated; they all chose English names to assimilate here. They are far from alone in this–entire generations of immigrants have endured this. And even now, unfortunately, versions of this story happen all the them. :/

  17. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 25th, 2022 at 8:03 am · Link

    So true, flchen. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Misty Dawn
    · August 28th, 2022 at 9:56 pm · Link

    I went to school with a boy that had to hide who he really was for years, I am so happy that we have become friends (and he no longer has to hide). He is a great guy and very genuine.

  19. Mary McCoy
    · August 28th, 2022 at 10:34 pm · Link

    Oddly, the only one I know of by name is someone a lot of Americans have seen. My Dad told me that the “native American” playing the chief weeping about the Earth’s pollution in the famous TV PSA in the 70s was 100% Sicilian and probably a cousin of ours. He was known as Iron Eyes Cody but was born as Espera Oscar de Corti in Louisiana. His family came to the US through New Orleans and he later moved to Texas and then California, where he changed his last name to Cody and started working in the film industry. He claimed to be 100% Native American but kept changing the exact lineage. He married a native American and adopted two native children. He wore his wigs and other costumes in his everyday life and in 1995, Hollywood’s Native American community honored Iron Eyes for his longstanding contribution to Native American causes. Although he was no Indian, they pointed out, his charitable deeds were more important than his non-Indian heritage.

  20. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 29th, 2022 at 6:46 am · Link

    What a wonderful outcome, Misty. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · August 29th, 2022 at 6:49 am · Link

    Wow, Mary, that’s fascinating. I remember that commercial. Like Belle hiding in plain sight allowed him to do good. Thanks for sharing.

  22. miki
    · September 3rd, 2022 at 8:15 am · Link

    my grandfather was Oscar but in reality it was franz we learned about that more than 40y after his death^^;;; from what we discovered we think he changed his name when very young during the war

  23. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · September 3rd, 2022 at 8:34 am · Link

    Thank you so much for sharing, Miki. I hope his life was a happy one.

    · September 3rd, 2022 at 9:36 am · Link

    My great-grandfather was a German immigrant who named his son Wilhelm. During WWI, my grandfather became William, and he was extremely worried that his father would be interned, since he never did learn to speak English very well, and didn’t really ever become anti-Kaiser! That probably did not happen because they were farmers in an area that had a large Scandinavian and German population and food beat other considerations.

  25. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · September 3rd, 2022 at 11:28 am · Link

    Thanks for sharing Carol. Older members of my church who had German ancestry shared stories with me of the prejudice they faced during WWI. So glad your great-grandfather was spared being interned.

Comments are closed.